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Practicing Transformation

By Ed Leidel





Are Your Dreams Going Unfulfilled?

Are you Stuck?

Would you like to Change?


Then Read on…



In a state of extreme anxiety Bill called for an appointment. Visibly trembling Bill explained that his life had come to a complete standstill. Then in his late twenties, Bill had been filled with energy and promise. Sitting down he burst out, “I just realized that I’m going to die!” Deeply concerned, I asked “Are you ill?” He burst out, “No, but it just hit me that at some point I’m going to die, and I have suddenly become overcome by fear - I’m afraid to go to work – I feel paralyzed.”


Six months later Billed called me filled with excitement. Proudly he boasted that he had just sky dived and was exhilarated by the experience. Somehow Bill had overcome his paralyzing fear. What a transformation! What had happened to Bill in those months to move him from fear to exhilaration?


For thirty-eight years a crippled man sat at the edge of the pool of Beth-zatha in Jerusalem waiting to be transformed by the pool’s healing waters. But healing never came. He seemed to be permanently stuck. Suddenly Jesus of Nazareth showed up and asked, “Do you really want to walk again?” “If so…STAND UP! Take your bed and walk!” The fifth chapter of John’s Gospel amazingly reports that the crippled man did just as Jesus commanded. How did this come to be?


Tom and Ann had been separated over year. Each were heavily engaged in their work and couldn’t muster up the energy or courage to move beyond their unhappy and uncomfortable parting. Each felt stuck but afraid to act because they could not imagine a way out of their dilemma, or they felt that the other wouldn’t follow through. Trust and confidence were lacking. When invited by a mutually respected family counselor they reluctantly, yet hopefully agreed to begin to meet together. In time, insight and accountability opened the door to healing their relationship.


Transformation doesn’t just happen. It’s never an accident. In my experience there are at least four stages in substantial and permanent transformation. I call them “the four P’s:” Passion, Perception, Process and Persistence. They’re usually chronological. Here’s how they work…




Stage One: Passion


Change requires motivation. The passion or desire to change usually comes out of an undesirable or upsetting experience. Loneliness, failure, rejection, disappointment, disillusionment, and illness can bring one to the point of “enough is enough!” We are all susceptible to desert experiences in different ways. Different temperaments or personality types are vulnerable to different desert typologies. In Awakening Grassroots Spirituality I describe eight classic kind of deserts: the deserts of Nonsense, No Boundaries, Confused Vision, Incompetence, No Meaning, No Trust, Powerlessness, and Loneliness. [1] Perhaps one of these words describes your present state of mind. It is the consistent wisdom of the mystics that the discovery of the mystery of Divine Presence is precisely in the desert. It is precisely in the desert that we find wells of amazing Grace.


Ever so readable, Anne Lamont, shares helpful wisdom on the value of deserts in Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers. “There’s freedom in hitting bottom, in seeing that you won’t be able to save or rescue your daughter, her spouse, his parents, or your career, relief in admitting you’ve reached the place of great unknowing. This is where restoration can begin, because when you’re still in the state of trying to fix the unfixable, everything bad is engaged: the chatter of your mind, the tension of your physiology, all the trunks and wheel-ons you carry from the past. It’s exhausting, crazy-making. Help. Help us walk through this. Help us come through. It is the first great prayer.”[2]


Adverse experience when dwelt upon can also lead to depression and paralysis. What makes the difference is a willingness to say or better yet, to yell “Help” in the midst of our desert experiences. Jesus asked the key question of the crippled man in John’s Gospel: “Do you want to be changed?” Too often it just seems easier to be miserable and wallow in being pitiable.


In almost all great literature, it is a desert experience that calls forth the heroic. From Achilles inthe Iliad to Harry Potter in the Philosopher’s Stone, the hero or heroine to be is inevitably challenged by devastation and catastrophe. Passion or Eros is at the heart of our desire to live fully.


The opposite of passion is apathy: an attitude of “what’s the use” or “why bother.” Years ago psychiatrist and social commentator Karl Menninger called apathy the great sin of our present age. Overwhelmed by complexity or sensing that we have no agency to change we just sit back and give up. Also called sloth or acedia, apathy is a kind of moral deadening of the will – a precursor to a downhill slide and loss of identity. The Old Testament prophets challenge us to “choose life, or choose death.” In other words, when we cop out and allow ourselves to become dispassionate, we are - in principle - choosing not to live.


God seduces us through persistent love. Many of us were taught that God would love us if and when we change. In fact, God loves us so that we can change. What empowers change, what makes us desirous of change, is the experience of love and acceptance itself. This is the engine of change.


You would not be reading these words if you did not have some desire or need to change; to risk; or to be in touch with an inner passion to be transformed. The journey to transformation; to getting unstuck, begins with getting in touch with your inner passion to live.




Stage Two: Perspective


It is amazing how easily wrong we can be, depending on from what perspective we view our lives. Take for example Edward H. Adelson’s classic illusion of mistaken perspective.

The reality is that the square labeled A and the square labeled B are identical shades of gray.





The original image of the illusion.

The squares marked A and B
are the same shade of gray,
yet they appear different.

The original image plus two stripes.

By joining the squares marked A and B
with two vertical stripes of the same
shade of gray, it becomes apparent
that both squares are the same.


One of the great truths of perspective is that “what we focus on becomes our reality.” In the above example, when you focus on the apparent difference between squares A and B (left illustration) you get a very different picture of the differences from when you focus on the ladder (right illustration).


So, when we focus solely on the problem, we tend to get stuck or mired down in all that is wrong. How often have you gone to a meeting that was advertised an opportunity to “fix” a problem, and come away more frustrated than when you went? Conversely, when we focus on what’s right, or on opportunities that a problem may allow, we get a very different outcome. Focusing on opportunity gives energy and new perspective to deal with what is preventing progress.


Bill’s focus on death and his resultant paralysis was overcome as he shifted his focus on the fact that he had a life to give away, not to be taken away. In further reflection and conversation, Bill awoke to the reality that his life was a gift to be fully lived. He reimagined his life and thankfully accepted the realities that he was young, healthy, educated and able to explore a host of opportunities in a full and vigorous life. He could make the world a better place in using his gifts in service to others.


The cripple in John’s gospel was so focused on his disability that he had given up on believing that help was possible. Perhaps he was afraid to live his life. Whatever his malaise, Jesus broke through his defenses and starkly challenged him to DO something; to stand up and gather his mat and put walk. Jesus restored his passion to live and to act. What could be more miraculous then God working through the marvelous complexity of our human nature. God’s Grace works through us, it does not magically overcome us and subvert our nature.




Stage Three: Process


Moving from one place to another requires process. Compasses and maps are necessary in journeying to a new place. Not all compasses and road maps are equal. Many of us who use smart phones have discovered that the Google map app is the one to depend on for consistent results. Over the years I have discovered by trial and error a transformation process that really works – almost without fail - as long as an authentic passion and an appreciative perception are in play.


This transformation process is based on two ingredients: (1) a coaching methodology, and (2) an organizational development practice called appreciative inquiry.


The coaching methodology that I have found to be fruitful has been developed by Dr. Rob Voyle, creator and director of the Church Leadership Institute in Oregon. Rob explains that in order to get from one place to another (A to B), you have to have accurate and affirmative clarity on the character of A and B, and you have to identify and access personal strengths and realistic resources to utilize in getting to a new place.[3] Coaching also requires a competent resource person for guidance and accountability.

Appreciative inquiry (AI) is universally practiced throughout the world as a means of gaining and maintaining organizational health and vibrancy. Appreciative Inquiry works by asking questions and envisioning the future to foster positive relationships and build on the present potential of a given person, organization or situation. Applied research has demonstrated that this method can enhance an organization’s internal capacity for collaboration and change. Appreciative Inquiry utilizes a cycle of 4 processes, which focuses on what it calls the four D’s:



            DISCOVER: The identification of organizational processes that work well.

DREAM: The envisioning of processes that would work well in the future.

DESIGN: Planning and prioritizing processes that would work well.

DELIVER: The implementation (execution) of the proposed design.



The basic idea is to build - or rebuild - around what works, rather than trying to fix what doesn't. Appreciative Inquiry practitioners try to convey this approach as the opposite of problem-solving. They take a positive focus on how to increase exceptional performance instead of improving poor skills and practices. AI assumes that this line of reasoning is motivational. Progress does not stop when one problem is solved; it naturally leads on to continuous improvement. AI draws from stories of success in an attempt to create meaning.[4]





Putting these two methodologies together I have come up with the following chart which I call the VIVA process:[5]





1. Appreciating “What IsThis is an essential energy building stage that enables a person or community to regain confidence in valuing the best of what they are. Questions are asked that allow one to claim what is that they value about being who they are. How are you unique? What is the goodness that God sees in you? What story can we tell about who you are that will empower you to risk moving forward? At the end of this stage one proclaims an identity sentence that will be true, memorable, pithy, and energizing.

In working with Tom and Ann, we began by asking what each valued in the other rather then what they disvalued. Each made a list which they shared with the other. Their lists were very different from one another as they were almost opposite personality types. This allowed each of them to begin to re-identify the other, not so much by what they wanted them to be, but for the unique (albeit different) that they were.

2. Imagining “What Might BeThis is the critical visioning stage. This is where one discerns what they will be like in a given time frame in the future. What new ways will you relate to others? This new “best of what you mightbe” will be based realistically on who we are right now; but it will also stretch you and to let go of things that are no longer working or that are no longer relevant, while at the same time pulling you forward into new and challenging territory.

After Tom and Ann re-valued each other for their unique and different identities, they agreed that they both did want a future where they could love and support one another, but they were having a hard time envisioning what that might look like because of past issues of mistrust. Instead, they were encouraged to envision how each could change their own behaviors to accommodate the others hopes and values.

The next question to ask is, how will be get from 1 to 2; from “the best of what is” to the “best of what might be?” In the diagram below, 3 proposes an answer to that question.



3. Determining  “What Should BeThe third stage brings us to familiar territory. We have all formulated goals before. But now, we are basing our goals on a realistic present identity and an appropriately related preferred future. “What should be” will only be given birth if we have or can find the resources to bring it into reality. This is a check and balance piece to the process. There is no point in dreaming of a new sense of self or community that is totally unreachable, and un-resourceable.


For this stage, Tom and Ann each made a list of goals for themselves that they would work on to bring into being a shared future with a renewed willingness to trust one another and to change their expectations for one another. In sharing their goal lists with one another they were able to edit their lists to keep them focused on their prime objective which was to re-establish their marital relationship as a relationship of mutual trust and sharing. In time each began to experience small but critically important changes in each other’s attitudes towards one another. The most important resource to claim for this stage was the resource of time: time spent together in sharing feelings, struggles and behavioral compromises.


4. Creating “What Will BeThis is the stage that brings lasting transformation and renewal. Too often, individuals and organizations want to get right to this stage without doing the essential work of stages 1 through 3. This whole process takes time. It cannot be done in one week or one month. Grinding out an action plan with timelines, clarity and accountabilities about who does what, when, where and how is important. If 1 through 3 are done well there is already a commitment and an excitement about getting to the finish line. Accountability becomes a joy rather than something held over our heads. One could call the four stages “a Holy Conversation” as it becomes a way of being fully human; a new habit for our hearts to continuously engage in. It is a process that calls out the best in us. It is a process that requires prayer, faith and a willingness to risk and to “fail” (that is to say) a willingness to learn from our ongoing experience.

Patience and accountability became significant assets for Tom and Ann as they progressed to this stage. Checking in with their coach and with others in their family system gave them a sense of development and a desire to forge ahead. In reality, creating a continuously fresh sense of self and/or a healthy spousal or work place relationship is a life time endeavor. Strived for outcomes of peace, joy and integrity are never automatic. As we grow we discover ever new needs for new disciplines or habits of the heart to keep our journeys fresh, alive and life-giving.

My hope and prayer for Tom and Ann, and so many others like them, is that they will be soul-mates to one another; challenging, nurturing, listening, exhorting, playing, praying, and enjoying one another through all the continuing challenges and opportunities that will surely come their way.


Stage Four: Perseverance

Perseverance, and Acceptance of Realistic Limitationare two essential characteristics of mature human character. These two qualities are often in tension; they are correlatives; each checks and feeds the other. I define these qualities as follows:

Perseverance: Constancy; steadfastness to one's task; persistence; capacity to grow; stamina, staying power amid dissonance and resistance; underlying is an assumption of committing oneself to an ongoing covenant relationship for a specific time period; discipline; ability to live with uncertainty; ability to be forgiving and forgiven; faithfulness.

Acceptance of Realistic Limitation: The struggle to be neither more or less than what one really is; an awareness of sin; ability to live within the sense of the comic (irony), and the tragic (paradox) in one's own life and in the lives of others; patience; adaptability; capacity to change and tolerate change; manifestation of joy, humor, laughter; wellness, both in self and in family/household.

Perseverance is "holding on." Acceptance of realistic limitation is "letting go." There is a time and season for both. Perseverance is the willingness to accept life, acceptance of realistic limitation is the willingness to accept death.

An example of this crucial and life generating tension was given dramatically in a 1993 newspaper story. It was reported that the Supreme Court of the United States made a decision to reaffirm Roe vs. Wade. The vote was 5 to 4. This was a surprise decision. Most expected the conservative judges (seven in number) to overturn this landmark case. The Administration had been putting consistent pressure on the court to overturn Roe vs. Wade. Judge David Souter, writing for himself and the other two dissenting conservative judges (of the seven conservative judges) , wrote, "The promise of constancy once given, binds its maker" and "Like the character of an individual, the legitimacy of the court must be earned over time." He said, the role of precedent is "a bedrock necessity if we are going to have in our judicial system anything that can be called the rule of law."

It is interesting to note that a Supreme Court judge is sworn in for life. They are the "high priests" of our political and secular culture. There is a deep sense of constancy (i.e., perseverance) about their call. Judges are very important leaders.

The newspaper reported that the opinion to overrule "under fire" (a decision that had not been shown to be wrong) would be seen as "a surrender to political pressure," exacting a "terrible price" by dangerously depleting the court's currency with a public that would come to see judging no different from politics and judges no different from politicians.

The tension here to be constant to a principle in spite of the conservative political pressure to let go of that principle is a sign of good leadership in action. The three conservative judges had to "let go" of their ideological politics and "hold on" to their ethical principles. Leaders are always aware of the ambiguities of any given circumstance, and they are always aware that decisions must be made in the context of those ambiguities. Effective leaders are capable of acting independently of their constituency while remaining connected to them.  Effective leaders act decisively with the knowledge that their actions may not be understood or be popular with their community.

Perseverance is like a direction orienting gyroscope that has a constant sense of "true course" independent of its local environment. Realistic limitation is the finite and changeable ground or vessel that the gyroscope is in relationship to. Each needs and feeds the other. Used together they enable transformational living. Isolated they lead to burnout or stagnation. Everyone has learned some elements of each of these qualities. Everyone tends to prefer one characteristic over the over. Mature human beings blend and orchestrate these virtues to bring wellness and prosperity to the communities they serve.

Bill’s transformation over time came about as he did a dance between his passionate desire to remain alive and live (persistence) and his ability accept his inevitable death (realistic expectation). He found a context for this in the process of reading and digesting St. Paul’s teaching about the Christian call to share with Christ in his crucifixion and resurrection. St. Paul essentially says that in order to live we have to die. Bill came to understand that once we let go of our fear of dying and accept the fact that our life is a gift to be used in God’s ongoing creation, we are liberated to be a life-giving instrument of love for others.

Tom and Ann remain in the process of transforming their relationship. The good news for them is that they are continuing (persevering) to do the work of building a life-giving and joy-filled marriage. They are slowly accepting each other’s finite limitations (everyone has them) as well as their own. They are doing the dance of holding-on and letting-go. Reconciliation and healing and trusting takes time. They know that. Transformation is happening.

Of course the need for transformation and the struggle to be transformed is lifelong. It is usually experienced episodically. It is instructive to map all of the transformational episodes in our life’s journey. There are usually patterns and learnings to be found. As you are now in a particular episode of transformation, I encourage you to journal your journey. Writing things down – your successes and failures – can, in the long run, be helpful in bringing to consciousness patterns of breakthroughs and dead ends.

Working with a coach or working in the loving attention of a small group is the best way of gaining assurance that your efforts to get unstuck will be rewarded. I highly recommend utilizing the wisdom of the Living Compass materials and interactive opportunities that are available at

May God bless your efforts to be healthy and whole and connected. In ending I would like to share with you my favorite passages from St. Paul – a passage which I pray often as work on my own journey of transformation.


Finally, beloved,


whatever is true,

whatever is honorable,

whatever is just,

whatever is pure,

whatever is pleasing,

whatever is commendable,


if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise,

think about these things.

 Philippians 4:8

[1] Leidel, Edwin, Awakening Grassroots Spirituality (iUniverse, 1994), pp. 49-64.

[2] Lamont, Anne, Help, Thanks, Wow (Riverhead Books, 2012), pp.14-15.

[5] V=values, I=identity, V=vision, A=action plan